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Council asks DOT for $21 million to fix Lewisville-Clemmons Road

By Jim Buice

The Clemmons Courier

For years, “fixing” the heavily congested stretch of Lewisville-Clemmons Road from I-40 to U.S. 158 has been considered a top priority for the Village of Clemmons. But it always came down to what was the best way to proceed and how to pay for it.

In Monday night’s meeting, the Village Council approved a resolution to support a request to receive $21.23 million in funding from the NCDOT for a median to be placed in the middle of what is now a five-lane road with numerous left-turn options.

Councilwoman Mary Cameron said she has lived in Clemmons for 32 years and that all she ever hears is what a disaster the road is and continues to be. “I’ve heard it every year, and every year it gets worse,” she said. “A few years ago, we asked if people wanted us to borrow money to go in debt to fix Lewisville-Clemmons Road, and the answer was no. Now, we’re being given the opportunity to fix the road for free basically. “It’s not going to start tomorrow, and it’s going to be years in the making. One of the complaints I’ve heard is there must be another solution. This is the only solution that they’ve come up with, and they are traffic engineers. I don’t know what the other solution is. If we sit around another 10 years, is it going to fall out of the sky? One of our major responsibilities is safety.”

Mike Rogers, who is the council’s Transportation Advisory Committee representative, learned in a recent Technical Coordinating Committee meeting that $200 million was to be allocated over the next 10 years for local projects in Division 9 and that Lewisville-Clemmons Road went from No. 9 to No. 3 on the list after a shift away from beltways for this pool of money. “That’s a large chunk of change,” Rogers said. “Assigning our 40 points doesn’t mean it will be accepted by the state. It goes back to Raleigh and is reviewed, then ranked and sent back to the TAC in January 2018. I think we need to be at the table and not on the menu.”

Even if approved, Rogers said that work on the road probably wouldn’t begin until 2023 at the earliest. Although no one questions the safety aspect, many businesses have expressed concerns about the median and its potential impact on the bottom line. In fact, four citizens opposed to having a median on Lewisville-Clemmons Road spoke in the public comments portion of the meeting. Nat Swanson, a former mayor of Clemmons, said that it would be a “disaster” to build a median.

Holly Groce, an attorney representing Hip Chics Boutique, said that the Village takes pride in the small businesses lining Lewisville-Clemmons Road and that the median would have a negative impact. Linda Miller, representing Fraleigh’s Boutique, offered a similar take on the lack of access for those entering and leaving the store.

Chris Wrights, the lone council member to vote against the resolution, said he thought the Overlay District plan for creating parallel roads gave the Village options to improve traffic in that area. “We have a solution possibly for Lewisville-Clemmons Road that we haven’t even started yet,” he said. “Businesses looked at this and are in favor of it. Everybody knows something needs to be done to Lewisville-Clemmons Road, but when I’ve talked to people the last several years, the overwhelming majority say the median is not the answer in their opinion.” Cameron said that the Overlay Plan was not being done in place of the median and that it’s not an either/or proposition. “They work together,” she said. “But the only thing to solve the crash problem is the median.”

Councilman Lanny Farmer said he thought both plans would work well together, and although he had concerns about the median’s impact on businesses, he added that the public input sessions would give residents a voice. Realizing that many in the community are opposed to the median, councilman Mike Combest did his own research. He looked at the Village Transportation Plan and noted there were 488 crashes on Lewisville-Clemmons Road (from I-40 to U.S. 158) from 2004 to 2007, an average of 162 wrecks a year (or 1 every 2½ days). He added that documents provided by the Federal Highway Safety program showed that raised medians reduce crashes by a minimum of 15 percent and they also decrease motorist delays by 30 percent – avoiding the clogs and preserving business viability.

Wrights pointed to some other numbers from DOT that indicated there were only three wrecks a month, but planner Megan Ledbetter said that was just from one year (in the 2010-11 time frame) and not an average of three to five years.

Mayor Nick Nelson said that in terms of priority, Lewisville-Clemmons Road “is the project, and I stand by those words,” but he added he thought the council started creating more options in the last couple of years, including the Overlay District. He added he knows the role of the transportation folks. “They are engineers of traffic,” Nelson said. “And that’s their concern – traffic, period. They’re not in the business of helping businesses. They’re in the business of reducing crash rates.”

Combest ended up making the motion that passed by a 4-1 margin. “It’s consistent with our plan for both the Community Compass and the Transportation Plan and the needs that have been very clearly established,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to get money, get moving forward and address the transportation issue on Lewisville-Clemmons Road.” In the previous meeting earlier this month, the council had a lengthy debate regarding an economic development grant with no local match for nearly $100,000 for downtown revitalization.

The main issue was that council members expressed their concerns about not being involved in the decision upfront regarding this particular grant, which would be used for upgrades to roadway enhancements through the shopping centers along Lewisville-Clemmons Road.

Village manager Larry Kirby said that no action was required that night, giving the board members time to review the grant until Monday night’s meeting. This time, without any further discussion, the council quickly moved by a 5-0 vote to proceed with the $94,000 grant.